Friday, March 19, 2010
By the late 19th century, Crockett was largely forgotten. His legend was reborn in a 1950s TV show by Walt Disney, which also introduced his legendary coonskin cap. In 1948, Disney told columnist Hedda Hopper that it was "time to get acquainted, or renew acquaintance with, the robust, cheerful, energetic and representative folk heroes". As part of a deal that allowed him to build a theme park, Disneyland, Disney would produce weekly one-hour television programs for ABC. Disney wished to highlight historical figures and his company developed three episodes on Crockett—"Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter", "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress", and "Davy Crockett at the Alamo"— starring Fess Parker as Crockett. According to historians Randy Roberts and James Olson, "by the end of the three shows, Fess Parker would be very well known, the power of television would be fully recognized, and Davy Crockett would be the most famous frontiersman in American history." The shows sparked heated debate, with many questioning whether Crockett was really deserving of the amount of attention he was now receiving. Letter writers also questioned the series' historical accuracy.
Nevertheless, the shows proved very popular. They were combined into a feature-length movie in the summer of 1955, and Parker and his co-star Buddy Ebsen toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. By the end of 1955, Americans had purchased over $300 million worth of Davy Crockett merchandise ($2 billion by 2001). The television series also introduced a new song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett". Four different versions of the song hit the Billboard Best Sellers pop chart in 1955. The versions by Bill Hayes, TV series star Fess Parker, and Tennessee Ernie Ford charted in the Top 10 simultaneously, with Hayes' version hitting #1.
The shows were repeated on NBC in the 1960s after Disney had moved his program to that network. The 1960 repeats marked the first time that the programs had actually been shown in color on TV. Davy Crockett made a return with Disney in two further adventures: "Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race" and "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates". In these two episodes Crockett faced off against Mike Fink, another early American legend. A three-episode 1988-89 revival was made entitled "The New Adventures of Davy Crockett", in which Tim Dunigan took over Fess Parker's famous role. Johnny Cash played an older Davy in a few scenes set before he went to Texas.